Monday, August 24, 2009

Why I Love Quentin Tarantino's Films

Okay, this may seem like a bit of a bizarre post, but I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately, having seen Inglourious Basterds this past Friday. I thought it would be worthwhile for me to articulate why I enjoy Tarantino's work as much as I do (without sounding too much like a fanboy).

First and foremost, I think his greatest talent is that he understands pacing of narrative structure as well as pacing of individual shots. Although Inglourious Basterds does seem to drag a bit more than it should, it was still paced at a more comfortable rate for me than District 9. It may seem as though I am comparing apples to oranges, but I have noticed in recent years that an increasing number of movies are edited in a frantic way. This results in a kind of Tony Scott/Ridley Scott/television commercial look that rarely allows a scene to play out as a scene. Tarantino has learned an important lesson from older films, giving the actors and the audience a chance to experience the characters and locations. Such dazzling visuals and montages often sacrifice developing characters or story to their full potential within the film.

Among other directors that seem to understand this are William Friedkin and Blake Edwards, both of whom brilliantly used cameras placed in a fixed locations with long takes at times. In doing so, Edwards also used the edge of the frame to great comic effect in his Pink Panther films.

Now I know that film is a highly collaborative art form, and that screenwriters and editors in particular may deserve as much blame as any given director for overcutting, but from what I've read about a director's responsibilities, I'm inclined to think that the directors deserve the bulk of the blame.

Secondly, Tarantino has a unique writing style, unlike many other screenwriters. Yes, he often wears his influences on his sleeve, and yes, his dialogue is often totally unrealistic but at least it has character. Tarantino tends to be highly self-referential, which is a treat for his fans and probably a nuisance to those who dislike him.

Screenwriting incorporates much more than dialogue, but when dialogue has personality I tend to react to it much more. David Mamet, Charlie Kaufman, Paddy Chayefsky, and Billy Wilder (with his writing partners) are a few of the talents that belong in this category. When you see a movie written by any of these people, you will know who wrote it within a few minutes. There are some films from the past few years that I've seen (particularly The Dark Knight and District 9) that have totally dropped the ball as far as creating and developing meaningful characters is concerned. Granted, Inglourious Basterds has fewer strong characters than most of Tarantino's other films. (The marketing and title of this movie led to the false expectations that the American soldiers would be central to the film and that the dialogue would be primarily in English.)

I doubt that I will ever consider Inglourious Basterds Tarantino's finest work, but it has left me eagerly anticipating his next project. I hope more filmmakers will strive to meet the bar he has raised, not through cheap imitation, but rather through their own inspired invention.

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